[HOWTO] Genealogy Research Online

Category: Genealogy , Reference

Are you interested in researching your relatives and ancestors, or creating a family tree? Are you looking for good software or websites where you can do genealogy research?' You've come to the right place! Read on for some of the best online genealogy tools...

Research Your Family Tree

Roots, the 1977 television mini-series based on Alex Haley's book, sparked a renewed interest in genealogy for many people. Back in the 70's, learning about your ancestors was a tedious job. But now, personal computers and the Internet make it MUCH easier. Here are some of the best online resources for doing genealogical research and charting your family tree.

Ancestry.com is probably the first site you'll find when you search online for tools to help you research your family tree. It's a great resource, which I have used myself. But it's not free. The "U.S. Discovery" membership costs $189 for one year, or $99 for six months. The "World Explorer" package adds international records for an additional fee. As of this writing (May 11, 2018) there is a Mother's Day promo offering 30% off those prices. You may also be able to access Ancestry for free at your local library.


The LDS Church operates FamilySearch, an organization that gathers and shares genealogical records worldwide. FamilySearch.org is one of the most popular genealogy websites, ofering free access to over a billion records. FamilySearch also offers personal assistance at over 4000 family history centers around the world.



...is a comprehensive index to over 200,000 genealogical resources on the Internet. You'll find a list of links that point you to genealogical research sites, all categorized & cross-referenced. It's like a "card catalog" to the genealogical collection in the immense library that is the Internet.

family tree genealogy



The oldest and one of the most extensive genealogy sites on the Internet. It's purpose is to connect people so that they can help each other and share genealogical research. You'll find mailing lists, message boards, genealogy search engines, and much more. RootsWeb has been undergoing extensive "renovations" for about a year, so some resources may be offline.



An outstanding project that has pages for each state and each county in each US state with extensive links to applicable resources, query boards, surname lists, and most anything else imaginable. You can get to the county pages from the state pages, and to the state pages from the main page shown above.



A project similar to USGENWEB that has sites for every country other than the US. WorldGenWeb is a non-profit volunteer organization that is dedicated to the free use and access of public domain genealogical information. Resources include query pages, message boards, mailing lists, census records, cemetery records, biographies, bibliographies, and family/surname registration websites.



Steve Morse's One-Step Web Pages help you drill down into genealogy databases—passenger records, census collections, vital records and more—and let you search them from a single, flexible yet simple interface.



If one of your ancestors came to the USA by way of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island, search their name and you can access his or her records in some detail. I was impressed that the database allows you to search using last name, ethnicity, name of town they left, year of arrival and more. You can even see a copy of the ship's manifest listing their names!



If you're looking to fill out your family tree? Go to the Relative Finder site, a database of several million dead and living persons, and their relationships to one another.



You can also check the Social Security Administration Death Index to search for information on deceased persons. (It will ask for your name and email address to access the records. You can enter real or fake info there to get past that roadblock.)


Genealogy Software

One final thought... have you ever been asked to provide "Mother's maiden name" or "Father's middle name" as a "security question" on a website, or anywhere else? There's a very good chance those answers are easily found with online genealogical search tools. If you ever are REQUIRED to use such a security question, make up a name you can remember and use it everywhere.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. What tools have you found helpful when doing family tree research? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "[HOWTO] Genealogy Research Online"

Posted by:

Kenneth Heikkila
11 May 2018

Thanks for the tips!
I have used Ancestry's website for many years and haven't paid for the last several. I can still access my tree and edit it. The sidebar info is quite good especially the DNA info where I have been made aware of several 2nd and third cousins whose messages I can still get and reply to. Also they keep improving the accuracy of their DNA test results as more people take the tests and updating past results.

Posted by:

Ryan James
11 May 2018

There are plenty of new sources here that I did not know about. I have only been trying to do family research for the last year.

I have entered all of my data in Find My Past online, but I would love to know if there is a computer resident program that will upload that data to avoid typing it all in again.

It would be easier to work on, offline.

Posted by:

Barbara Goss
11 May 2018

You do not mention geni.com which is excellent and free.

Posted by:

Phil Tripp
11 May 2018

Another great source is archive.org. They keep lots of original source material and, unlike ancestry.com, it is free.

I use wikitree.com, and while it is imperfect in that it doesn't always have source material, it does have much source material.

My problem with ancestry.com is that it presents itself as a source but it often just is repeating someone else's family tree with no sources.

Posted by:

11 May 2018

One thing worth mentioning before you pay the extra cash for the World Explorer feature on Ancestry. The records you find may be in the language of that country. A few, but not all, may be translated into English. I have copied pages and posted them into Goggle and used the translate feature to make sense of them but it doesn't always do a good job. Also there are some features that are off limits to those using Ancestry for free. I am currently in the process of copying all my records from Ancestry over to Family Search due to the ever increasing cost of Ancestry. Best feature of Ancestry is it's ease of use whereas with Family Search is perhaps more for the experienced user. Another word of caution concerning Ancestry is it is awful easy to take the easy route and copy someone elses information which could be wrong. In genealogy one wrong entry can lead to a long list of mistakes.

Posted by:

RA Whewell
11 May 2018

I think you need to write a part 2 because Geni.com has been left out on a limb. (excuse pun) Its free up to a point. The "Pro" is charged. With the "Pro" you have the ability to do more, like having control over your tree. A lot of effort goes into getting it right by the paid curators on staff. Very good and informative. The website is owned by Heritage, another well known genealogy family tree organization.
What about Google Newspapers. Its free to look up and copy some very old, to the early 1800s, newspapers. But not all is there. But not all selections are there at Newspapers.com, a paid site.

Posted by:

11 May 2018

Several comments: I've been doing gen research for about 20 years, not so much recently, but...
Legacy has a free software version

Ryan James: you need to use a gedcom file to copy gen data from one software to another: --https://www.familysearch.org/developers/docs/gedcom/
Rootsweb is in such a mess because it was taken over several years ago by Ancestry.com; they froze all the gen forums in place, now these forums have been inaccessible for some time. Some indication I've gotten is that in the process of recovery from this mess, they are asking people to sign up again for each forum (I belong to at least 20; one for each name I search; some are location specific, etc). I don't belong to Ancestry. From what I've heard its' data is entered by its' members and may be only as accurate as their
Ancestry has also gotten its paws onto the Soc Sec Death Index. The best way to search the SSDI is thru the LDS familysearch.org site.

Posted by:

top squirrel
11 May 2018

You write: "If one of your ancestors came to the USA by way of the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island..."
The Statue of Liberty rests on what was originally called Bedloe's Island, name changed some years ago to Liberty Island. It is completely separate from Ellis Island and always was.
You can't do much about third party records, but people who care about their privacy and that of their progeny should refuse to answer the census. You can learn a lot about me by looking at now-released records of interviews of long-dead ancestors, done in 1930 and 1940, before I was born. I refused to answer the census from 1970 on. Despite assurances of privacy, government officials have attempted to access census data before scheduled release, and although I have heard they were rebuffed, if they ever were successful, you and I would never know.
There is a place for one's SSN on a death certificate, and this is probably how the SSA builds its SS Death Index. If you or your relatives want to stay off it, never give a doctor insurer or hospital your SSN and put "unknown" on the death certificate. Medicare is phasing in a system wherein your Medicare number will no longer be based on your SSN. Phase one starts in June '18. You'll get a new card with your new number.

Posted by:

Kel Raine
11 May 2018

Hi Bob, i notice that you haven't listed MyHeritage.com in your list. We have been using that site for many years, and found them very good.

Posted by:

Betty Fowoer
12 May 2018

Wow! Thank you for all these resources. I am just getting started on ancestry.com but concerned over the cost but I did find several 2nd and 3rd cousins from my DNA Test. I want to check these other sites mentioned and also perhaps attend a class at my local library on family histories. So far, I have not found ancestry.com "user" friendly perhaps due to my inexperience.

Posted by:

William Corley
12 May 2018

Interesting article. BUT you have to be really careful when you try to do genealogical research online. All too much "data" is not backed up by sources and all too much is taken for granted. I have been a genealogist for over 50 years, and almost all my data was obtained the HARD way - by spending endless hours poring over public records and writing hundreds of letters. Remember, a genealogy so accurate, it would stand up in a court of law! Don't pass down false info to future generations.

Posted by:

12 May 2018

Previously I thought of genealogy being the harmless obsession of antiquarians, maiden aunts and such, so good to see someone, as always in every comments section, be able to find valid cause for paranoia. Fie on the long-dead relatives who thoughtlessly answered census questions.

Posted by:

12 May 2018

Thank you Bob, this is wonderful for starting out Genealogists.

My oldest daughter has been doing research on both sides of her families' histories. In the end, it is fascinating and worth while.

She has found out many things about the families and some wonderful "tidbits" of historical events. For instance, I have a Great Grandfather so many times back, I am not sure of the exact number.

Back to my point. He came to America from France and his last name was Benet. He eventually changed it to Bennett. It was a common practice back in the 1700's. He came to America in 1742. During the American Revolutionary War, he was a Personal Bodyguard to General George Washington. He was injured during the war but lived a long life.

This to me is not paranoia, but a very interesting fact about a relative of mine, who lived during a vital time in the United States of America's history. It does look as though I could have belonged to the DAR(Daughters of the American Revolution) had I truly wanted to. However, I am simply proud that a relative of mine was a great patriot and that patriotic attitude has been passed down the family line.

Posted by:

Linda Davenport
12 May 2018

Good job Bob.

As a family historian for well over 40+ years I'd like add my 2cents worth, if I may?

Well done William Corley. You said it better than I can!!

Cyndi's List is great and certainly well known. However, a less well known site that specializes in just genealogy resources (with over 10 million links) is www.linkpendium.com. If you haven't visited there you should try it.

Family historian's rule to live by: Protect the privacy of living people and don't make family skeletons public unless all the people it might cause injury to are deceased.

Ancestry, family search and several other sites do have actual source documents online. You can save copies of those documents to your own computer.

Betty: For new (and old ones for that matter) users of ancestry. Here's a free book that will certainly help you be successful using ancestry.

Ancestry's family trees: Yes many of them contain garbage, no source documents, etc., etc. but, every so often you find a well researched and documented tree. Just take everything with a grain of salt and don't add anything to your tree you can't prove - instead use what you find as a hint to search for additional information.

After using several family history software programs I settled on RootsMagic. I've been using it since version 1. The current version allows you to upload your tree (or what you want to upload of your tree) and to download your tree from ancestry, familysearch and a few other sites.

I would never use Family Tree Maker. I was building my first tree and it contained a lot of personal notes, transcripts of conversations and personal information not to mention a LOT of errors. I hit the wrong key; my tree was upload to ancestry; they added the information to CDs they were selling. Now that information is out there and still being incorporated in people trees.

I love this hobby and I'm so glad my ancestors answered the census takers' questions!!

Posted by:

13 May 2018

Mme. Moxie -- you might want to re-check that data on your ggggf -- the American Revolution was from 1776-1783. George Washington was only 10 years old in 1742 so doubt he was employing a body guard at that time & your ancestor might have been a tad old to be his bodyguard during the actual time period.

Linda Davenport-- I share your dislike of Family Tree Maker; I started with it and too lazy or time-constrained to change over but I hate it more each day. When I was forced to upgrade several years back, they lost all the formatting of a book I had done on one branch of my family; I haven't felt strong enough to try to re-construct. The good news is, I think it's no longer owned by Ancestry.com so the unwanted uploading may no longer be a problem.

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